Developing babies in the womb are at risk of illnesses than can be transmitted from mother to infant through the placenta. Pregnant women who become infected with Zika virus may be at risk of having not only a child with microcephaly, but also a developing baby with other serious health issues, a new study found.

The preliminary results of a study released on March 4 in The New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that Zika virus can also cause other potentially serious complications to fetuses carried by women who get infected while they are pregnant.

Researchers from the University of California - Los Angeles and Fiocruz Institute in Brazil found a list of other serious outcomes brought about by Zika virus. They analyzed data from 88 pregnant women in Rio de Janeiro from September 2015 to February, wherein 71 tested positive for Zika.

The team found that 29 percent of pregnant women infected with Zika virus had a range of severe abnormalities, including fetal death, calcification of the brain, insufficient amniotic fluid, restricted fetal growth, central nervous system damage and the possibility of blindness.

"We have found a strong link between Zika and adverse pregnancy outcomes, which haven't been documented before," said Dr. Karin Nielsen, senior author of the study.

"Even if the fetus isn't affected, the virus appears to damage the placenta, which can lead to fetal death," she added.

The researchers found that most of the complications emerged after the women got infected in the first and second trimester of pregnancy. They were surprised to see cases wherein fetal deaths occurred in the third trimester, even if there was no sign of brain malformation.

Much remains unknown about Zika, including whether this virus causes microcephaly, a birth defect wherein babies are born with smaller heads and brains than usual. In this new study, some of the developing babies do not make it to birth, which shows how grave the situation is, especially in the Americas where the center of the outbreak lies.

"We do have more babies who seem to have microcephaly that haven't been born yet," Nielsen added.

Of the women tested, eight of them have already delivered babies, including two undersized infants, two healthy babies and two stillbirths or fetal deaths. One infant was born via cesarean section due to no amniotic fluid and one had normal weight, but has severe microcephaly.

Photo: Raúl Hernández González | Flickr

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